By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Louisiana faces a long recovery period after Hurricane Laura rocked the state. Laura battered the state, displacing residents and leveling buildings. It follows Hurricane Katrina almost 15 years to the day.
Once again, Louisiana has fallen prey to extreme weather. Hurricane Laura battered the state last week, wreaking havoc on homes and taking lives. For example, The Washington Post reported Sunday that the town of Cameron was “nearly obliterated.”
“The houses that remained standing seemed far beyond repair, and most were still surrounded by—or fully submerged in—murky floodwaters,” the article said. “Concrete foundation slabs were all that remained of other homes. There was often no rubble to sift, as winds strong enough to smash brick coupled with a towering storm surge to wash away structures and their contents as if they had never existed.”
The worst hurricane devastation the entire nation has ever seen came just 15 years ago. On August 28, 2005, Hurricane Katrina reached category five in the Gulf of Mexico. Although softening to a category three hurricane before hitting Louisiana, it still became the worst hurricane disaster in American history.
Setting the Stage for Disaster
“The 2005 hurricane season broke the record for the most named tropical cyclones in the Atlantic in one season, with 28 named systems,” said Professor Eric Snodgrass, Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
“During this season, records were also set for the number of hurricanes at 15 and the number of major hurricanes at seven. Hurricane Wilma set the all-time record for the most intense hurricane in the Atlantic and Hurricane Katrina became the most costly natural disaster in the United States.”
Professor Snodgrass said that “hurricane season” officially begins on June 1. The reason is that June 1 is typically the date that scientists find a large enough area of warm temperatures on the surface of the sea that support the formation of tropical cyclones.
However, a cumulative record of storms dating back 100 years shows that the week surrounding September 10 is the highest for storm activity. The hottest months of the year during the summer get missed as the heating of the ocean water takes several months before its warm water can cause cyclone activity.
When the Levees Broke
Unlike virtually every other hurricane that has passed over Florida, Hurricane Katrina didn’t decelerate or become less severe. It actually strengthened to a category five after passing Florida, only softening to a category three by the time it made landfall over New Orleans.
Professor Snodgrass said that inside the eye wall of Katrina, the cloud wall reached 10 miles high and orbited around it while producing winds in excess of 160 miles per hour.
“New Orleans was exceptionally vulnerable to a direct hit. Much of the city is below the water level of the Mississippi River, which flows along the southern edge of the city, and of Lake Ponchartrain, which borders the city to the north,” he said. “As the levees failed, the city filled with water due to Katrina’s powerful storm surge and torrential rains.
“Citizens who fled Katrina’s destruction spread all over the country—not just nearby Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama; but locations including Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Boston. Many of these citizens have not returned to New Orleans.”
Hurricane Katrina caused far worse damage than Hurricane Laura has, but for some residents of the state, Laura is likely a painful reminder of what they lost 15 years ago.
Professor Eric R. Snodgrass contributed to this article. Professor Snodgrass is the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, where he also received his master’s degree. Previously, he earned his bachelor’s degree in Geography from Western Illinois University.